Community square garners council support
Plan not final, but alderpersons approve framework
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — By a vote of 8-2, the Marshfield Common Council gave the city’s Economic Development Board approval to continue developing plans for a downtown city square. The vote means that planning may continue to progress, but it is not a final authorization to break ground.
The park would occupy space just east of the post office, where the former Marshfield News-Herald building and Professional Building once stood.
The square is planned to be a 54,000-square-foot community gathering area with features such as a splash pad, outdoor dining courts, and a stage for entertainment. Council members Gordy Earll and Alanna Feddick voted against the project moving forward.
“I didn’t think this is the best and highest use of that parcel,” Earll said. He added that the city has already invested funds in acquiring the property, and the community square would keep the lot off of the city’s tax roll.
Feddick said she was concerned both about loss of parking, particularly close to the post office, and comparisons to Wausau’s 400 Block, which supporters of the project have often pointed to as a positive model to emulate on a smaller scale.
“The 400 Block in Wausau is not all rainbows and butterflies. There are homeless there. There are disturbances there. We have a number of homeless in our community. I am certainly concerned about the highest and best use as Gordy said,” Feddick said.
Feddick also advocated making better use of existing parks in the community.
“I’m against city money going to this. I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Initial plans called for the $1.3 million square to be funded by a combination of private and city funds — $900,000 would be raised privately with $200,000 coming from the city and another $200,000 from the Economic Development Board.
Marshfield resident Phil Shealy, who previously wrote a letter to Hub City Times opposing the square, reiterated his concerns during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting.
Alderman Tom Buttke supports the concept and said the community square could be a long-range method of generating new business development in the downtown.
“Businesses are not necessarily going to come in if you don’t generate traffic for them down there,” Buttke said. “This will get people in the downtown area.”
Buttke added that some in the community have a mentality that they need to be able to park directly in front of their destination downtown but are willing to park and walk a longer distance to enter big-box stores.
“I think it’s coming down to the same old thing again. This is a change. My God, don’t have change in Marshfield because that’s going to be hard,” Buttke said.
Alderman Ed Wagner has talked about the importance of bringing a “critical mass” of people to downtown Marshfield.
“I’m going to vote in support of this thing. I’m going to work hard to make it happen,” Wagner said.
Chris and Erin Howard, co-owners of Browns Living, which has headquarters in the Blodgett Haus bordering the planned square, both spoke at the meeting in support of the plan.
“I love the idea of the park downtown. I do have some concerns, one of them being parking, but this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make something downtown that can’t be done. I mean there’s no buildings in that site right now. If something goes up there, when is the next chance going to be to build a park downtown?” Chris Howard said.
Main Street Marshfield Executive Director Angie Eloranta also expressed her board’s endorsement of the plan.